Reflections: Play

When I read little bunny’s post on achieving balance, I could feel the vibration of the strings all the way from her head to mine.  The task mastery, the goal orientation, the high expectations, the value of hard work and productivity – I recognize my own emphatic tutelage of these concepts in raising both daughters.

I have always organized myself around goals – goals for business and regular life.  Too many goals running all of the time.  In my personal life I have financial goals, personal development goals, exercise goals, even goals for maintaining balance.  This year I developed more goals, like Green goals, using less paper and avoiding plastic, and avoiding waste.  I have a goal of reading more, and now I have a goal of writing the blog for Abby and me.

A long time ago, when I was getting divorced, the goals got out of control.  At that point I was putting them down on a spreadsheet and then regularly evaluating myself on what I had done to achieve each of the goals every week. If I hadn’t accomplished enough I felt guilty.  Things that went onto the list because they were fun, such as becoming fluent in French, became an obligation and a risk of failure.

I realized then that I was driving myself crazy with goals, and I stopped.  I gave it all up one day and decided that I would play.

I started board games, and computer games.  I became a Level 26 sorceress and defeated my enemies with shards of ice that came from my fingertips.  It was exhilarating.

I got out my camera and took pictures of everything, first with film.  I plunged into photography as the medium for much of my creative focus. Standing in the cold drizzling December rain of Paris, I vividly remember the intensity of taking pictures of empty chairs at Luxembourg Garden from a hundred angles, and suddenly discovering the young lovers occupying two chairs in a distant corner.

During this same time, my business partners and I, operating out of my basement, were building a new company.  It was so strategic and creative during its beginnings that in the work-play spectrum, I would have to put it at least partly in the play.

Gradually the goals crept back in, but I have tried to never let them take over like before (The tasks, however, are a different matter!).  The business grew up and needed structure and decisions. As our ideas took root, it became very serious and demanded more of me. I got married again and lived in two cities for a while.  Then I added working from distant locations overseas, to be with my husband during his 2 – 3 week trips.  I lost my board and computer game partners to distance and to work schedule, and my darkroom in a move to a new condo.

It has been eight years since I had a darkroom.  That is worrying.

What is this play really about, and why is it so important?  For me, there is less a distinction between what I do for work and what I do personally, than between Play and Not Play.  The Play is about passion, and should be time-freed.

My favorite kind of play has always used a lot of right brain activity, but even in play I gravitate towards the complicated.  Sometimes work is very much still play, because it uses all of my stuff.

I don’t really enjoy Monopoly, better is Settlers of Cataan or Tigris & Euphrates.  I don’t knit straight stitches; I want the lace.

This kind of writing, for me, is play.

Taking pictures is play.

Travel is play, when I wander and have no agenda.  When I try to get off the map.

Unprogrammed exploring with my daughters is play.  Last year Abby gave me a Christmas present of pure Play.  Abby envelopes Christmas 2011 L1320891 copyIt was a garland of beautiful envelopes that she had made, and filled with an experience for us each day in the month from Christmas until she would leave for Korea.  Cupcake tastings, movie nights, photography excursions, an hour of board game play.  It was amazing.

Play = joy.

Lately, one of the greatest joys has been working with my dog.  I have been astounded at the communication that exists when I really engage with Neka and teach her.  It is a perfect game of strategy and conversation.

I think of both the seriousness and the fun that my daughter brings to each of her projects, and how in everything she does all of her energy is poured into it.  It is beautiful to see what she creates when her mind is free and she is intensely involved.  I think this is probably play for her.

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3 responses to “Reflections: Play

  1. Yes, your “play” is very important to you–board game parties and gaming systems in the house…after I was restricted from playing video games the first half of my life! Still, sometimes it can be difficult to ensure play remains play and does not become a chore/goal/”to do.”
    -the little bunny

  2. This made me think of you:

    http://zenhabits.net/primal/

    Q: What don’t we get enough of, and why is it such a problem?

    Mark: Play. People don’t play enough.
    It’s funny, because when I talk to people, I find that playing is the hardest hurdle to overcome. How’s that? Play is, by definition, fun. Why wouldn’t you love to do more of it?
    Play isn’t fun when you feel guilty or self-conscious about it. It’s not play if you’re holding back and looking around to see who’s pointing and laughing at you. Play must be carefree. For it to really “count,” play must be free. You have to commit to it. You can’t go out and begrudgingly toss the Frisbee around. Your body knows the difference; it can’t be tricked that easily. You have to really play. You have to give yourself over to the moment (remember, be here now).
    The people you’re with also know the difference. If you’re outdoors tossing a ball with your kid (or even your dog) and you can’t help but gaze into the soulful eyes of your iPhone every minute, whomever you’re with will know that you’re not really playing with them. That you’re not really engaged in the activity. And that’s not playing. That’s acting.
    Be a kid again. A kid who pays the bills, takes care of responsibilities and duties, and knows when to buckle down and do the things that matter, but a kid nonetheless.

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